COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - More than a dozen people were arrested and 15 law enforcement officers were hurt during a day of protests that started peacefully at the South Carolina State House but later turned violent.
While the majority of the day was peaceful, a couple of hours of chaos -- which included setting police cars on fire and vandalizing businesses -- led city officials to enact an immediate curfew.
That curfew, which is only for downtown and the Vista, is in effect now until 6 a.m. Monday.
Three Richland County Sheriff’s deputies and 12 officers with the Columbia Police Department were injured during Saturday’s protests.
One of them remains in the hospital Sunday morning. They are all expected to be OK.
Two firefighters with the Columbia Fire Department were also injured after getting hit by thrown objects, officials said. They are both OK.
Law enforcement is also investigating two reports of shootings during the protest and its aftermath.
Around 10 p.m., RCSD said deputies were shot at while patrolling the curfew zone near the corner of Assembly and Gervais streets.
Law enforcement did not fire back at the suspects, Sheriff Leon Lott said.
No one was hit by gunfire.
Around 11 p.m., Lott told WIS they made an arrest and the situation was under control.
Protesters first gathered at the South Carolina State House around 11 a.m. to protest the death of George Floyd.
Hundreds, if not more than a thousand, people gathered to hear speakers address police brutality, especially as it affects the black community.
People of all races and ages gathered and sang “Amazing Grace” at the start of the rally.
Organizers for the Columbia event, titled “I Can’t Breathe,” say blacks leaders across the nation called for a national march.
Floyd died in police custody after he became unresponsive when a police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes.
It was captured on video and has caused national outrage. Floyd said several times he couldn’t breathe.
From the State House, protesters marched to the Columbia Police Department headquarters, where they were met by officers in riot gear.
The protest there also started off peacefully, with WIS capturing a moment that a protester cried as she held hands with one of those officers.
Sometime during the afternoon, a man in a “Make America Great Again” hat approached the group and protesters confronted him, a WIS reporter witnessed.
One protester told WIS the man was yelling the n-word at them.
As the crowd surrounded the counter-protester, Lott said police used rubber bullets to try to get the man away from the crowd, and that’s when rocks began to be thrown at law enforcement.
Sheriff Lott said that dispute was the catalyst for the day to turn violent. He could not say if the man was affiliated with any groups, but he did dispute rumors that the KKK showed up at the rally.
Lott said peaceful protesters left around that time and “outside forces” who were “bent on doing damage” took over.
Around that time, WIS reporter Miranda Parnell was hit in the head by a rock. She later tweeted about the experience.
Miranda did go to the hospital and later reappeared on air to assure everyone she was OK.
She also emphasized that what she witnessed at the State House on Saturday morning was a peaceful protest of people calling for justice.
Things only escalated from there after the protesters’ confrontation with the man in a red hat.
Crowds were seen throwing rocks at police and vandalizing buildings and police cars.
Protesters set three cruisers on fire across the street from police headquarters around 5:30 p.m.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia Police Department held a news conference around 6 p.m. addressing the protest.
Chief Skip Holbrook said four officers were injured, one of them seriously.
Holbrook said shots were fired by a protester earlier in the day, but no officers returned fire. Several arrests had been made by the early evening.
It was at that time that officials announced a curfew was in effect for downtown and the Vista.
By 7 p.m., the large crowd of protesters outside CPD headquarters had dispersed. There were still protesters on Gervais Street near the Blue Marlin, but the scene was calm.
WIS witnessed one protester handing out voter registration forms as people went home.
The Columbia Fire Department was called to several businesses to put out fires. One of those was across from the Blue Marlin, and another was inside the Carolina Western Pub.
Several businesses in the Vista, including CWP and Blue Marlin, were vandalized.
CWP was also broken into, and it appears the bar was looted. Just down the street, the Art Bar was not touched, owners told WIS.
As the sun set, law enforcement in riot gear formed organized lines to sweep the downtown area of any remaining people.
SWAT vehicles were used as they made their way through the area and eventually returned to CPD headquarters.
Around 10 p.m., City of Columbia employees released video of them raising a new American flag after protesters burned the previous one at CPD headquarters.
Crews had already begun cleaning graffiti from city buildings and the parking garage across from CPD almost showed no signs of the vandalism by 11 p.m.
Downtown streets were eerily quiet as order was restored.
Rumors that protests had spread to other parts of the city, particularly Sandhill and Harbison, were not true.
WIS went to both locations and found a large police presence, but no protesters or people vandalizing or looting businesses.
RCSD did say a group of about 30 “would-be looters” busted the glass front door of the Target on Two Notch Road, but police responded before they could get inside the store. Deputies said the crowd scattered and no arrests were made.
The COMET temporarily shut down the transit system on Saturday night, but said bus services will resume Sunday.
City of Columbia officials called an emergency meeting Sunday at 2 p.m. to address the protest and its effects on the Midlands.
A second protest planned for Sunday at noon at the State House has been confirmed by RCSD.
Gov. Henry McMaster is also expected to speak at 1 p.m. Sunday.
WIS will provide live coverage of these events on air and online.
Again, a curfew is in effect right now until 6 a.m. Monday, affecting downtown and the Vista.
However, it was not meant to apply to businesses operating in the area, Mayor Steve Benjamin said.
“I expect that we will be exercising a much lighter hand with businesses that are legally operating during daytime hours. It’s proven difficult for so many of them to stop operating without the normal notice that we would give them," Benjamin told WIS. “We won’t be shutting down legal businesses that are opening but have encouraged them to do everything to stay safe and keep their employees and patrons safe. The CPD will be out in full force to protect everyone.”
Those who violate the curfew will be arrested and could face 30 days in jail or up to a $500 fine, Benjamin said.
Police said they will be assertive and aggressive in enforcing the curfew, which WIS crews witnessed several times Saturday night.